Western agencies warned Lebanese prime minister of assassination plot, say Saudis

Saad al-HaririWestern intelligence services warned Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri of an assassination plot against him, thus prompting him to resign on Sunday, according to Saudi news media. Hariri is a Saudi-born Lebanese politician, reputed to be one of the world’s wealthiest people. He is the second son of the late Rafiq Hariri, who ruled Lebanon for much of the 1990s but was assassinated in 2005. Saad al-Hariri spent most of his life in Saudi Arabia, the United States and France, but returned to Lebanon in 2014 to lead the Future Movement, a center-right political party supported by Sunni Muslims and some Christians. He became prime minister in 2016.

On Friday, Hariri flew from Beirut to Riyadh for a scheduled high-level visit. But on Sunday he shocked the Arab world by announcing his resignation from the post of prime minister. He did so in a surprise television address from the Saudi capital, which was broadcast live in Lebanon. Hariri told stunned Lebanese audiences that he was resigning in order to protect himself from a plot that was underway to assassinate him. He added that the political climate in Lebanon was intolerably tense and reminded him of the conditions that led to the assassination of his father 12 years ago. He also accused Iran and Hezbollah of acting as the primary destabilizing factors in Lebanon and much of the Middle East. Hariri and his supporters believe that Hezbollah was behind his father’s assassination in 2005. There was intense speculation in Lebanon on Monday that Hariri would remain in Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future, fearing for his life if he returned to Lebanon.

On Sunday, the Saudi-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat claimed that Hariri decided to resign after he “received warnings from Western governments” that there would be an assassination plot against him. The newspaper did not name the Western governments, nor did it identify those who are allegedly trying to kill Hariri. Later on Sunday, Saudi television station al-Arabiya al-Hadath alleged that an assassination attempt against Hariri had been stopped at the last minute in the Lebanese capital Beirut earlier in the week. Both news media cited “sources close” to the Lebanese leader, but did not provide specific information, nor did they give details of the alleged plot or plots. It is worth noting, however, that Lebanese security officials denied these reports from Riyadh. Lebanese media quoted senior security official Major General Abbas Ibrahim as saying that no information about assassination plots had been uncovered. Major Ibrahim, who heads Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security, said that his agency had no information about attempts to kill Hariri or other Lebanese political figures.

This could mean that the information about a possible assassination plot against Hariri was given directly to him by Western intelligence agencies, probably because the latter fear that Lebanese security agencies are infiltrated by Hezbollah sympathizers. Or it could mean that the Saudi media reports are inaccurate. Lebanon is now awaiting further details by Hariri regarding the alleged assassination plot against him. In the meantime, the already fragile political life of Lebanon appears to be entering a period of prolonged uncertainty.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 November 2017 | Permalink | Research Credit: B.M.

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Attack kills wife of Ukraine commander behind alleged plan to assassinate Putin

Amina Okuyeva Adam OsmayevAn armed attack in the outskirts of Kiev has killed the wife of a Chechen commander of a Ukrainian paramilitary unit, who is wanted in Russia for an alleged plan to kill President Vladimir Putin. Adam Osmayev is believed to have survived the attack, but his wife, Amina Okuyeva, was reportedly shot in the head and died on the spot. Osmayev, a Russian Chechen, became widely known in Ukraine in February of 2012, when he was arrested by police in Odessa, a major port city located on the northwestern shore of the Black Sea in the country’s south. He was found to be carrying forged identity documents. When police searched his apartment, they found large quantities of illegal explosives. Authorities in Moscow told the Ukrainian government that Osmayev was involved in a conspiracy to kill Russian President Vladimir Putin. A Chechen associate of Osmayev, Ilya Pyanzin, was handed over to Russia by the Ukrainians and was given a 10-year prison sentence by a Moscow court.

But Osmayev’s legal team was able to argue that his human rights would not be guaranteed if Ukraine extradited him to Russia. In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Osmayev should serve his sentence in Ukraine, at which point Kiev rejected Moscow’s extradition request. In late 2014, Osmayev was released from prison and allowed to remain in Ukraine. Soon after his release from prison, Osmayev entered the ranks of the Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion. The armed group was one of over 30 paramilitary units organized by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense to combat pro-Russian separatists in southeastern Ukraine. By early 2015, Osmayev had risen to the rank of commander of the battalion and was increasingly treated as a celebrity by Ukrainian nationalists. But he continued to face threats from Russia and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. On June 1 of this year, Osmayev and Okuyeva survived an apparent assassination attempt by a man who was wounded but managed to escape following a shootout with the couple.

Ukrainian media reported on Monday that Okuyeva was killed earlier that day, after the car that her husband was driving was ambushed by a group of masked assailants on the outskirts of Kiev. According to eyewitnesses’ accounts, the assailants opened fire at Osmayev’s car as it was passing through a railway crossing. Osmayev was reportedly injured in the attack, but Okuyeva was shot in the head and died at the scene. Footage aired on Ukrainian national television showed Osmayev’s heavily damaged car, which reportedly sustained “a hail of bullets” fired by the attackers. The Chechen paramilitary commander told reporters that the attackers’ main goal was to assassinate him. No group or government has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 October 2017 | Permalink

Iran upholds death sentence for man accused of helping Mossad kill scientists

Ahmadreza DjalaliA court in Iran has sentenced a prominent Iranian academic to death for allegedly helping Israel assassinate nuclear scientists and sabotage Tehran’s nuclear program. Four Iranian physicists, who were employed in Iran’s nuclear program, are known to have been assassinated between 2010 and 2012. Most were killed by magnetic bombs that were placed on their vehicles by unknown assailants, who were then able to escape on motorcycles. Tehran believes that the assassinations were carried out by the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency, with the help of agents recruited by the Israelis from within Iran’s nuclear program.

On Tuesday, Iranian authorities revealed that one of these alleged Israeli agents has been sentenced to death following a secret trial. The office of Tehran’s public prosecutor did not name the alleged agent, but said that he admitted holding “several meetings with the Mossad”. During those meetings, the agent allegedly “provided [the Mossad] with sensitive information about Iran’s military and nuclear installations”, according to Iranian authorities. The Iranians claim that the agent, who is himself a physicist, gave Israel the names and addresses of at least 30 senior members of Tehran’s nuclear program. The list included nuclear physicists, engineers, as well as intelligence and military officials with nuclear specializations. In return for supplying inside information, the Israelis helped the alleged agent secure permanent residency in Sweden and financed his move there, according to the Iranian prosecutor’s office. Iran claims that the information given to the Mossad by the agent resulted in the assassination of at least one Iranian scientist.

In a statement published on Monday, the international human-rights pressure group Amnesty International identified the alleged Mossad agent as Ahmadreza Djalali, an expert in disaster medicine. Djalali’s name had been reported before in connection with a trial in Iran, but authorities in Tehran had not mentioned any connection between the accused and the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. Amnesty said that Djalali has taught and carried out research at several European universities, including the Universiteit Brussel in Brussels, lUniversity of Eastern Piedmont in northern Italy, and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. It is believed that he was arrested in Iran in 2016, during a visit from Sweden, where he has been living for several years. Iranian media said that Djalali was sentenced to death on October 21, and must appeal by November 10 if he wants to challenge his death verdict.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 October 2017 | Permalink

Maltese reporter who exposed high-level political corruption killed in car bomb

Daphne Caruana GaliziaMalta’s best known investigative journalist, whose reporting about offshore tax evasion prompted a major political crisis in the European Union member-state, has been killed by a powerful bomb near her home. Daphne Caruana Galizia, who died Monday, aged 53, gained international prominence last year, when she used information from various sources, including the leaked “Panama Papers”, to accuse senior members of Malta’s government of implication in tax-evasion schemes. Her reporting led to the resignation and eventual re-election of the country’s Labor government last year.

Caruana Galizia began her career in the late 1980s as a regular columnist for The Sunday Times of Malta, before being appointed associate editor of The Malta Independent. She eventually launched her personal English-language news blog, called Running Commentary, which became one of Malta’s most influential websites. The site’s popularity was only augmented by the fact that it reported scandals affecting both of Malta’s main political parties, the governing Labor Party and the opposition Nationalist Party. In April of 2016, following the release of the so-called Panama Papers, Caruana Galizia accused senior members of the Labor government, as well as the prime minister’s wife, of being involved in large-scale tax-evasion schemes and receiving bribes from oil-rich Azerbaijan’s ruling family. The allegations led to the resignation of the government and national elections, which the Labor Party won.

On Monday, Caruana Galizia died instantly when the rented Peugeot 108 car she was driving exploded near her home in the village of Bidnija, near Mosta, in central Malta. Eyewitnesses said that the explosion was so powerful that it tore apart the vehicle and was heard from several miles away. Subsequent reports in the Maltese media alleged that the investigative journalist had recently filed reports with the police, claiming that she was receiving threats against her life from persons unknown.

The bomb attack shocked Maltese society and immediately threw the European Union member-state’s political life into disarray. The country’s Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, said in a statement that he was “devastated” by Caruana Galizia’s assassination, adding that he had instructed the island country’s police and intelligence agencies to “take all necessary steps to investigate” the murder and uncover its culprits. The killing was also condemned by nearly every senior European Union official and by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the international arm of the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, which uncovered the existence of the Panama Papers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 October 2017 | Permalink | Research credit: J.A.

Researcher seeks access to classified US document about Gandhi killing

Mahatma GandhiA researcher is seeking access to a potentially revealing classified telegram sent by a United States diplomat who witnessed the assassination of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. Gandhi, the leader of the Indian movement for independence, and a towering civil rights figure of the 20th century, was assassinated on January 30, 1948, as he was about to hold a prayer meeting in downtown New Delhi. His assassin, Nathuram Vinayak Godse, was a member of a Hindu nationalist paramilitary group, who blamed Gandhi for the bloody partition of India. He and a co-conspirator, Narayan Apte, were arrested for Gandhi’s murder and put to death in 1949.

But there are many who claim that Gandhi’s assassination resulted from a far larger conspiracy, involving many more people and groups, but was covered up. One such proponent is Mumbai-based researcher Dr Pankaj Phadnis, who has been pushing for a new official investigation into Gandhi’s assassination since 1996. Last week, Dr Phadnis petitioned India’s Supreme Court, arguing that an American intelligence officer was present during Gandhi’s assassination and filed a report that may point to a broader conspiracy to kill the Indian civil rights leader. Dr Phadnis also argues that American intelligence agencies may have been involved in a secret effort to protect Gandhi from physical danger.

The Mumbai-based researcher told the Indian Supreme Court that he was able to obtain access to American diplomatic documents during one of his recent visits to the US National Archives and Research Administration in Washington, DC. Among them were telegrams sent to the Department of State by the US embassy in New Delhi before and after Gandhi’s assassination. The two most telling telegrams, said Dr. Phadnis, were written shortly after the assassination by a longtime American diplomat, Herbert Tom Reiner. According to many eyewitness accounts, including Reiner’s own, Reiner was present during Gandhi’s assassination, and was standing no more than five feet from the Indian leader when he was shot by Godse. The American diplomat helped apprehend the assassin before he and others surrendered him to the authorities.

Reiner submitted two telegrams to Washington as soon as he returned to the US embassy following Gandhi’s assassination, which Dr Phadnis was able to access. But a third one, sent at 8:00 p.m. that same evening, remains classified and out of the reach of researchers. Dr Phadris said he filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the US government and is expecting an answer. Now he is trying to get the Indian courts to agree that the existence of new evidence, including Reiner’s telegrams, justify the reopening of the probe into Gandhi’s assassination.

Reiner left India in the summer of 1949 and served briefly as assistant attaché in Budapest, Hungary, before being transferred again, this time to Seoul, South Korea. He then held posts in Sierra Leone, South Africa and Canberra. He died in 1999 in the US state of Massachusetts.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 October 2017 | Permalink

Iraqi Kurds claim they have captured senior Turkish intelligence officers

Cemîl BayikThe Turkish government has refused to comment on reports from Iraq, which suggest that Kurdish forces have captured at least two senior Turkish intelligence officers. News of the arrests first emerged in mid-August, when pro-Kurdish media in Turkey’s Anatolia region claimed that an armed Kurdish group in Iraq had captured two members of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Turkey’s principal intelligence agency.

According to the reports, the Turkish intelligence officers had used forged identity papers to travel from eastern Turkey to the northern Iraqi city of Erbil. From there, they went to Sulaimaniyah, a metropolitan center in Iraq’s Kurdish north. Allegedly, the Turkish officers traveled to Iraq in order to assassinate Cemîl Bayik, a co-founder and senior leader of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Founded in 1978, the PKK is a leftwing secessionist paramilitary organization that seeks an independent homeland for Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Iraq’s Sulaimaniyah region is controlled by another Kurdish armed group, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which has close relations with Iran. But a rival Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Democrat Party (KDP), which is supported by Turkey and opposes the PKK’s secessionist aims, also has a strong presence in the area. It is not known whether KDP forces were aware of —or even assisted— the Turkish intelligence officers in Sulaimaniyah.

Kurdish sources claim that the two Turkish intelligence officers were arrested by PUK forces. Notably, media reports suggest that one of arrestees serves as the MİT’s deputy undersecretary for foreign operations, while the other heads the MİT’s PKK desk. The PUK is now threatening to publish photographs of the two men, which would blow their cover. But there has been no comment on this story from Ankara, where Turkish government officials refuse to confirm or deny that the arrests happened or that the two men are indeed MİT employees. Some observers, however, note that the Turkish government shut down the PUK’s office in the Turkish capital on August 23, and expelled the organization’s representatives. The group has maintained an office in Ankara since 1991, so the Turkish government’s surprising move may signify that the media reports about the arrests of the two MİT officers are indeed accurate.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 September 2017 | Permalink

Ukrainian military intelligence commander killed in Kiev car explosion

Colonel Maksim ShapovalA senior military intelligence officer, who commanded a Ukrainian special-forces unit that fought against the Russians in eastern Ukraine, was killed on Monday when his car exploded in broad daylight in Kiev. Initially, the Ukrainian government sources simply said that the dead driver of the car was a member of the Ministry of Defense’s Main Directorate of Intelligence. Later, the casualty was identified as Colonel Maksim Shapoval, a senior commander of the Main Directorate of Intelligence, who led an elite special-forces unit. Subsequent media reports said that Colonel Shapoval’s unit had fought against Russian-backed guerillas in eastern Ukraine in the past year.

A police report said that Colonel Shapoval died instantly when his car exploded at an intersection in central Kiev. The explosion took place at 8:15 a.m. local time on Monday, and was reportedly caused by a powerful bomb that had been attached to the outer floor of the vehicle, right below the driver’s seat. A video taken at the scene of the explosion showed the charred frame of a silver-colored sedan in the middle of a city street, surrounded by debris.

A Ukrainian government spokesman said on Tuesday afternoon that Kiev was treating the incident as an act of terrorism. When asked about possible suspects, the spokesman said that Colonel Shapoval’s killing appeared to be the work of professionals. He added that investigators were looking for possible evidence of Russian state involvement in the attack. Authorities in Ukraine have repeatedly accused Russia of involvement in the extrajudicial killings of Ukrainian leaders or Russian dissidents since 2014, when Moscow illegally annexed the Ukrainian province of Crimea. Since then, the Kremlin is believed to be secretly supporting pro-Russian rebels who have taken over several regions of southeastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s Chief Military Prosecutor alleged on Tuesday that the killings of Colonel Shapoval and others were perpetrated by Russian intelligence operatives. He added that his office would launch a detailed investigation into Colonel Shapoval’s killing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 June 2017 | Permalink